Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Writers on Writing (it's Work) - Chris Jones on Robert Caro / Gary Cartwright / Mark Kram Jr.

I've seen a lot of interesting "about writing" content lately that warrants posting on so... here's the posting on.

Lengthiest piece was "The Big Book" for Esquire by Chris Jones on author Robert Caro. Written in advance of Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (his 4th of 5 planned volumes on the 36th President), the piece details Caro and his writing process. It's an excellent feature from Jones and the depiction of Caro is of someone who puts an almost obsessive amount of work into his reporting and seems to build a story brick by brick (with lots of outlining), rather than just "plopping down at the typewriter and letting magical prose flow". To this idea, a quote from Caro in the Jones piece is "you feel almost like a cabinetmaker, laying planks. There's a real feeling when you know you're getting it right. It's a physical feeling."

It was very cool stuff that emphasized for me the methodical labor involved in solid writing and Jones spoke of that and other thoughts on his piece in a Q&A with Jones for the blog TVFury. Also interesting from the profile on Caro was significant mention of the other people involved in the book process. From the publisher to the editor and book designer, there's a lot to it and Jones provides fascinating content around everything involved.

Two other writer pieces I've seen recently echo the same idea put forth by Jones on Caro about the efforts and steps needed write great content. Published by Texas Monthly, "A Lifetime of Achievement for Gary Cartwright" has a transcript of Cartwright accepting an award in his home state and features some solid words from the author. Of particular profundity was his statement that reminded me of that by Chris Ballard on the importance of writing things down immediately (from a Brandon Sneed interview)...

"Okay, say some thought or notion or wild dance of words pops into your head. If the moment makes you smile or in any way causes blood to rush to your brain, stop what you’re doing, take a shot of whisky, and write it down. Never mind that the odds of it being anything important are so staggeringly lopsided that only a crazy person would bother recording it. Having written it down, you will not be able to resist tinkering with the words, moving them about, standing them on their heads, turning them inside out until the combination seems satisfactory and maybe even pregnant with possibilities. At this point you will begin to wonder if it’s too early to make hotel and airline reservations to the National Book Awards. But first there is the problem of a second sentence. So you focus again on the task at hand and think of another batch of words. After a while, the process takes hold."

Final writer wisdom piece to mention here was "Bronx Banter Interview: Mark Kram Jr." It's a Q&A of Kram with Alex Belth and vividly shows the amount of work Kram put into reporting his recently published Like Any Normal Day: A Story of Devotion biography of now deceased Buddy Miley. Moral I took from this is there's not always a guarantee of the outcome whilst you're putting in the work, but if the work doesn't get put in, it's a guarantee to have nothing at the end.